Sunday, February 7, 2016

Life in England: The Mundanity of February*

The view from my kitchen most of the time these days.

*Warning:  This post is comprised of mostly whining and some observations.  You have been warned.


There is really not much to say about February in England.  For starters, it is Mostly Cold and Grey and Usually Rainy, but that isn't so different from the rest of the northern hemisphere, so there's nothing remarkable there.  

I have started seeing Signs of Spring everywhere around me, though:  fruit trees are in blossom (yes, really) and the daffodils, crocus, and primroses are so evident that I no longer stop and exclaim, Look! The (crocus, daffodil, primroses) are blooming!  
The crocus are out, but difficult to appreciate so much in the rain.

Of course, the fact that it is raining approximately 90% of the time has limited the amount of time I spend gazing at blossoms, but I've seen them when I walk the dog, so I know they're out there.

Those of you who read my blog when we lived in Korea will recall that I whined a lot in February when we lived there because it was So Incredibly Cold.  Indeed, it was, in fact, much, much colder in Korea but at least we had Sun, and that made all the difference.

So I'm just sort of dragging through the days, working toward the Easter Holidays. As far as I can tell, this is more or less the same tactic being used by everyone in the UK - sort of a stolid plodding towards the light.  Naturally, we are doing our plodding wrapped up in waterproof coats and wellingtons, but we are all moving forward, myself included.  Most of the time, I am well-wrapped up in what #2 refers to as my "Tundra Suit," consisting of hat, fleece neck gaiter, several layers of clothes top and bottom, waterproof coat, gloves, and waterproof insulated winter walking shoes.  It is far from being an attractive ensemble, but at least I am mostly warm in it.

Of course, while I walk miles behind the inexplicably energetic dog (who has to stop and sniff every.single.thing -even more so when the wind is particularly bitter and from the East) I brood inside my Tundra Suit about all sorts of things, including:

Why it has taken well over 3 weeks for this !@#$%^& cough to go away and if it really means that I'm Getting Old because it's never taken me this long to kick a cough before.  This is such an unpleasant notion to contemplate that I rarely spend much time on it, because I really don't want to stare my own mortality in the face think about being Old, even though it seems this is inevitable if I am to avoid the alternative.

Why my refrigerator has a plastic holder for seven (7) eggs.  First of all, eggs in the UK are not kept in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (just out on a shelf), which leads me to believe that one isn't expected to refrigerate them at home, either.  And, if you do refrigerate them, why seven?  Why not six, or twelve (the amounts in which they are sold?) The point is pretty moot in this case - for me, at least - because my refrigerator is so tall (the fridge is stacked on top of the freezer, and together they form a fridge/freezer taller than I am) I can't see how many eggs are up there anyway and when I try to feel around up there, I invariably knock at least one egg out and onto the floor.  As a result, I mostly store the eggs in their cardboard containers in the fridge (very, very difficult to overcome lifetime habit of storing eggs in fridge, even when the entire UK doesn't do so and clearly suffers no ill effects from it. When I tried to get in habit of storing eggs on kitchen counter instead of In The Fridge, these attempts foiled by Son#2 and his father, who always put them back in the fridge.) This is problematic because the fridge is about the size of the one I had in my dormitory at University, and real estate in there is at a premium (frequent disagreements with MrL as to exactly how much space he is allotted for chilling beer. Needless to say, our opinions diverge significantly.)

How much easier it is to stay indoors.  Last year, when MrL and I were starry-eyed newbies who had just moved to the UK and were enchanted by everything, each weekend found us out exploring our new country, impervious to the vagaries of the English climate (this means rain);  a Stately Home here, a rugged Cornish cliff there, a charming museum, a cozy pub - you get the picture.  This year, though, we're experienced and - if the truth must be told - a bit more jaded.  Rainy weekends (in England, in the winter, this means 'nearly all') now find us holing up inside, binge-watching select TV series, interspersed with brisk, miserable walks through the rain with the dog, who has no desire to be out in it either, and, most of all - cooking.  Oh, yes, we're cooking like we have our own show:  mostly warm, cozy things:  soups, and stews and gumbos and pies and roasts and the like, and usually project-worthy, involving hours of chopping and sauteeing and simmering, resulting in something warm and comforting and tasty (and a sink full of dishes, but whatever).  Naturally, all this cooking is doing nothing for my waistline, of which fact I am well aware and which is depressing. It is made even more depressing by the fact that MrL remains precisely as fit and trim as he was when we married nearly 25 years ago. ( I am fully aware that MrL's habit of cycling to work several days per week  -60km round trip- has a great deal to do with this phenomenon, but still feel faintly resentful, although also fully aware that this is both unreasonable and unjust.)

How relieved I am not to be parenting small children right now.  MsCaroline does, of course, have two children, but they are no longer small. What this means is that MsC does not have to read - and, more importantly, worry about - all those articles on FaceBook that predict Doom and a Limited Future for every child who has not been breastfed/ attachment-parented/carried about the world in a sling/taught a second language while still in utero/raised in a yurt on organic food.  While MsC is pretty sure that she will always find something to worry about regarding her children, she at least no longer has to worry about scarring them for life or destroying their chances for a happy future. (Note re:  scarring/destroying:  If this has, in fact, happened, it is already done and no amount of worrying can change it, which is in itself quite freeing.)  Furthermore, at this point children are nearly 19 and 23 and both have thus far avoided incarceration (surely a win in anyone's parenting book) and proven selves to be responsible, hardworking, cheerful, kind and level-headed, which means that MsC and MrL must have gotten at least some of it right.

The very interesting interpretation that England has of some American foods:  Let me say here and now that I am not in any way bashing the cuisine of England.  In fact, I will undoubtedly go through the 5 stages of Grief when I leave here just because I will miss the grocery stores so much.  Also, Pies. And Cornish pasties, Bakewell Tart, and Eccles cakes.And the Sunday Roast.  But I digress.  The point was, that, while England does its own food - along with just about every other cuisine - marvelously, it has been oddly uneven on its interpretations of a couple American specialties we have run across(Note:  The Hamburger is not included in this category;  we have probably eaten the best burgers of our lives here no matter what the Americans think.)  And while we experienced this cultural disconnect a number of times in Korea (some of you may recall the time I was served a margarita made entirely of soju) we didn't really expect to experience it in the UK.  Which just goes to show you that you should never make assumptions.  In the last few weeks, we have run across:

"Nachos" - these were served to us in a cast-iron skillet (interesting presentation and a first for me with nachos) and consisted of what appeared at first glance to be only sauteed bell peppers and onions, but eventually revealed itself to be a dish consisting also of:  black and green olives (whole and chopped); a bit of cheese (more of a garnish), and a red sauce possibly meant to be salsa but tasting strongly of ketchup. There were a few tortilla chips interspersed under the toppings, but they required some hunting. We ate them, of course, but were bemused.

The banana peppers were an interesting touch.

"Barbecue" - this was served in a local chain restaurant that is meant to replicate a genuine BBQ joint of the American South and did it so well that MrL and I were almost stunned upon receiving our extremely genuine-tasting pulled pork and brisket sandwiches.  The only clues that indicated it was not a bona fide BBQ joint were:   1)  The lack of a cartoon pig in the establishment's signage  (widely recognized in American South as reliable indicator of quality of BBQ), and 2) the 'coleslaw' served on the side was essentially purple cabbage that may or may not have been tossed with a bit of vinegar.  Since you can easily find typical American-looking (eg, mayonnaise-based, orange-and-white-and pale green) slaw all over the UK, we were hard-pressed to understand this deviation from the accepted norm when everything else was entirely authentic.  While I can state definitively that purple cabbage slaw on your brisket does not taste as good as the White Stuff, I can also state with equal confidence that the BBQ was As Good as Anything We Could Get At Home, which (we felt) made up for any deficiencies in the slaw department.

"Guacamole" - Honesty compels me to admit that the tacit understanding in the USA when buying guacamole is that Homemade Guac (pronounced 'gwok') is Always Best so of course the stuff you buy in the store will never be that good. Everyone knows this, and everyone (well, at least everyone who lives in the Southwest) has their own recipe for guacamole.  However, it is also true that making guac can be messy and time consuming, so if your grocery store guac is less than stellar, it is the price you pay for convenience, and you should just Deal With It.  In this way, English grocery store guacamole is entirely consistent with the American version, except that it tends to be heavier on the sour cream than the guacamole we are used to. But that -as I said - is the price you pay for convenience - in both America and England - and you just Deal With It.



And, while we're on the subject of food, may I just say how much we love our Local, which puts out some of the wittiest signs in town (sorry, FaceBook friends, just had to post this again):












16 comments:

Carolyn Mack said...

I'm British and have never seen such an awful representation of nacho(es)(s)(???) stop going to that eatery immediately, they don't know what they're doing. Also, maybe you moved too far North? I live on the South coast and it's sunny here...

MsCaroline said...

Carolyn - I agree, their take on the nachos was off, but we really like all their other food - and they also let us bring the dog in - so we'll keep going back - just won't order any more nachos! As far as rain goes - we live in the South West near Bristol, and according to our neighbor (who used to live on the South Coast, too) it rains here more than it ever did there- I wasn't sure if he was exaggerating, but it sounds like he was telling the truth. I am learning, however, to seize the patches of sunshine and appreciate them whenever they appear!

nappy valley girl said...

February has never been a fantastic month weather-wise in England, but you are unlucky in that this year is particularly bad. The rain just seems neverending. Also, it's been so mild that all the spring flowers you are noticing are out about a month early. Daffodils are normally March/April.

I have no idea about the eggs. I never really understand why fridges have egg holders anyway, seeing as eggs all come in boxes for that purpose.....

Nance said...

I feel as if I could have written Large Parts of your post even though I live in NorthEast Ohio, USA, and do not have an inexplicably energetic dog.

Refrigerator Real Estate with regards to beer acreage is a sigh-worthy topic here, and I am continually irritated when Rick leaves his Killian's IN ITS CARDBOARD CONTAINER along with perching it on the top shelf of the upstairs fridge. Notice I said UPSTAIRS FRIDGE. I think the least he could do is to put his beer in the downstairs fridge and make the trek to the basement when he wants a beer, bringing up an extra bottle or two if he thinks he needs fortification.

We are not getting rain or snow overmuch here during our Unusually Mild Winter, but it is dreadfully cloudy, and I am overcome by Intense Sloth. It shows. Like you, I am getting "fluffy" and resentful. Rick can lie on the floor and eat an entire package of Oreos after my Healthful Dinner of steak salad, but he looks the same. I move the jar of Nutella out of the way to get a can of tomatoes, and I put on eleventy pounds.

Thankfully, we do not own a gun.

Soldier on, dearie. I think your next post should be a video: New Vus on Cooking! I cannot wait.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I do so love your blogs which manage to combine honesty with a charming courtesy. I agree about the nachos. Never seen anything like them anywhere. I think February is the worst time. The dankness and greyness seem to have been going for so long. Having chickens has however opened my eyes to how the days are lengthening. They put themselves to bed when it gets dark but their bed time is slipping later by about ten minutes day by day. Spring can't be far away. I did admire the fact that you were whizzing round looking at things last February. If you are staying inside til Spring you are behaving like a true Brit.

MsCaroline said...

NVG - yes, it's been much worse this February than it was last year - I'm glad it's not just me who thinks it's been unconscionably rainy! I noticed how early everything's blooming, too - I have photos of the dog (who arrived in England on March 11th last year, so I have a fairly solid date) romping around in the daffodils shortly after she arrived - the same daffs started blooming this week!

MsCaroline said...

Nance: Once, when we lived in the US, we, too, had 2 refrigerators - and (not to brag, just to let you know How It Was Then) even at one time- a chest freezer. These days, every single item that goes in my fridge is scrutinized and assessed as to its worthiness to occupy my limited refrigerator space - and I'm extremely ruthless. Those Killians wouldn't have a prayer in MY fridge. And I concur: they belong in the basement.
Re: fluffiness: don't even get me started.
Cooking video: Never! I can hardly stand to see photos of myself. A whole video would be unbearable.

MsCaroline said...

Elizabeth - Thank you for your kind words, and yes, it's been a hibernating sort of winter so far. You're right, though - the days *are* getting longer - I've been starting the dog's before-dinner walk while it's still light these days!

Nance said...

Oh, my. May I just remark on how wonderful it was to read Elizabeth Musgrave's comment regarding her chickens putting themselves to bed? And that this is how she notes the lengthening of the days? I can Smile Contentedly upon that for days and days.

(A More Utilitarian PS--my yes, we also have the standalone freezer. It's like we are Doomsday Preppers. In my defence, we had two Large Boys living here at one time, so...well, You Know.)

BavarianSojourn said...

February is definitely a staying indoors month, or even better a visiting the pub a lot month. I do hope the nachos weren't from there - appalling! :D

MsCaroline said...

Nance - You should really go to Elizabeth's blog (Welsh Hills Againhttp://welshhillsagain.blogspot.co.uk/) if you haven't already. She lives in a glorious part of Wales in a (200? Older)-year-old farmhouse surrounded by gorgeous views, and chickens are just part of the picture. Not to mention that she's an excellent writer as well.

Re: freezer: No need to explain, although I only had a 2nd fridge/freezer, not a standalone freezer. We did have a 3rd appliance, originally a chest freezer that MrL converted into a Beer Fridge (engineer: he tinkered with the thermostat) because it was a convenient way to keep his homemade beer kegs chilled. Besides, they didn't fit into a regular fridge, so that was the workaround.

Emma - Yes, we've been staying indoors a lot as well as visiting pubs. No worries about the nachos - our local has really good food (not nachos, though, which is fine!)

Trish Burgess said...

I check the weather for the South-West regularly and it does seem much wetter this year than last. We live in the east so all the rain dumps on you before it reaches us...sorry about that.

I agree, I am grateful my son has survived and I am not guilt-ridden by FB scare stories. I think we have both done well in bringing good-natured sensible young men into the big bad world.

MsCaroline said...

Trish - yes, our landlord (retired RAF) said that he lived on the East Coast for years and both he and his wife were shocked by how much rain they got when they moved here. I'm not sure if he told us that to emphasize the fact that it's not rainy ALL over the UK, or if he just wanted to point out that it rains a lot in the South West. At least I know it's not all in my head.

Yes, I think we've been fortunate, but when I hear what younger mums have to contend with, I'm very relieved that I'm not having to navigate my way through all of it anymore. It seems to grow more complicated every year!

Clare Taylor said...

Rain, rain, and rain. I agree, that's all we seem to get. And so sorry you're still feeling under the weather (pun intended, obvs...) x

Joy said...

I like that sign! Might make one for my own home and post by the front door.

MsCaroline said...

Clare - Ha, very witty - yes, this has been the Cold (or Flu?) from Hell. Still coughing occasionally 7 weeks in. But at least we've been having sun lately, and that is worth celebrating!

Joy - Ha! I can think of several places I've been lately that could have benefited from it, too....